Moving an Elderly Loved One: How to Recycle & Reuse All the Stuff That’s Left Behind

recycle or reuse downsized stuff

recycle or reuse downsized stuff

Helping your elderly loved move means helping them downsize. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff we can build up over a lifetime of living! Even for the most eco-conscious person, it’s tempting to just throw it all in a dumpster and be done with it.

If that sentiment sounds familiar, than in the words of Nancy Reagan, “Just say no!”

There are plenty of organizations and charities that can make good use of the items your loved one no longer needs. Here are a handful of the best ways to reuse and recycle your loved one’s unwanted things:

Decide Which Items To Donate

With a little creativity, many of your loved one’s unwanted things can be donated, recycled, or reused. You can donate to places where they will be put to good use; keep in mind, though, that not everything can be donated. Items need to be in good enough condition to be used by someone else. Don’t donate anything broken, dirty, or unusable; it’s best to just recycle what you can from those items instead and throw out what can’t be used in any way.


One person’s trash is another person’s treasure; you just need to find the right person for those gently used items!

  • Schools are always in need of supplies. Unused pencils, notebooks, and other office supplies are always appreciated. Ask if they have art, music, and theater programs that would be interested in art supplies, clothes, or musical instruments. And see if they have a use for your holiday decorations!
  • Community theaters are the perfect place to donate those crazy outfits hidden in the closet. They will also be interested in sewing supplies and bolts of fabric.
  • Artists use a variety of materials in their work, and they might be interested in anything from traditional paints to metal to accumulated magazines. Ask around to see what they’re looking for.
  • Your neighbors might be interested in taking stuff off your hands. To get rid of specific items, you can post on bulletin boards in your community center or use websites like the Freecycle Network or Craigslist.
  • Food banks will accept the non-perishable foods in your pantry. They often will take unused hygiene products too. As long as they are not opened or used or expired, food banks will distribute your food to those who truly need it.
  • Libraries and used bookstores ensure your books will have a loving new home where they will be read many times over.

Sometimes you just need to let someone else find your stuff a good home. Charities and organizations accept donations of a large variety of items which they use to support good causes.

  • Purple Heart supports veterans and their families. They accept lightly used clothing and household items. They do not accept large appliances, furniture, beds, or books.
  • Habitat for Humanity builds affordable housing for low-income families. They accept new and gently used furniture, home accessories, building materials, and appliances.
  • Goodwill provides job training and community programs for people with disabilities. They accept most clothing and household items.

Recycling The Stuff You Can’t Donate

You will surely be left with a pile of stuff that no one will take as a donation. It,s time to recycle! Your trash can be made into something new.

  • Paper, Metal, and Plastic: You don,t need to sacrifice your regular recycling habits during the move! Separate regular recyclables as you sort so they stay out of the dumpster.
  • Electronics: No one may want that broken TV, but the metals and plastics it’s made of can be reused. Keep an eye out for E-Waste recycling in your community – use the power of the internet to find out when they are. E-Waste includes televisions, computers, phones, CD and DVD players, radios, printers, etc.
  • Batteries and Fluorescent Bulbs: Batteries and fluorescent bulbs contain dangerous chemicals that should not go in a landfill. You can drop off them at your local Household Hazardous Waste Program site.
  • Food and Food-Soiled Products: As you empty out the fridge and pantry, you will probably come across items that are no longer suitable for consumption. Composting will put this trash to good use, turning it into rich soil. Even if you don’t have your own composting pile, others do. Ask your neighbors, schools, and community gardens if they have compost bins.

Give yourself as much time as possible to complete the move. You will want enough time to find homes for big ticket items without too much stress. If the move does need to happen quickly, recycling is easy when you sort as you go. Your loved one,s unwanted belongings can help those in need and be recycled so they do not have to sit in a landfill.

Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. Shayne is an NAHB Certified Aging in Place Specialist with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a Masters in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.

Image credit: Shutterstock

  1. Nick Lyons

    Great article! I hadn’t even thought about donating old books to a Library or used book store. Great tip that will give alot of books a second life.

  2. Tracy

    It’s always sad to throw things out when you move. I love the creative ideas for where to donate unused items. My local theater would love some of my old clothes!

  3. Kristen

    Thanks for the tips… Donating is great because you’re giving back to the community and it’s such an easy way to get rid of things you no longer need.

  4. Jennifer Martin

    This article has some great references for donating items. I agree never get rid anything because you might not now the true value. If its an antique you could also take it to an antique store. For clothing you can take them to a consignment store. The possibilities are endless and although you might have a lot on your plate after losing a loved one remember that those items were what created their lifestyle and memories.

  5. TP

    Thanks for the tips, I know my grandparents have numerous antiques an elementary drama teacher would love to get their hands on for the next school play.

  6. Wilson

    My father recently passed away, and I have a lot of his stuff that is left behind. I am going to donate and recycle most of his belongings. I’m sure someone out there can make good use of his items.

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